White sharks have been elusive during the OCEARCH Lowcountry Expedition, which is ending this weekend off the coast of Fernandina Beach.
Saturday will be the last day of the cruise that turned up no white sharks during a research cruise between South Carolina and Ponce Inlet, Florida.
OCEARCH founder and expedition leader Chris Fischer said this has been one of the most challenging trips because of the cold weather and rough seas.
"You need the right water temperature. You need the presence of sharks. You need the right sea states and the window (of time that) you've planned six months ahead to all kind of collide," Fischer told The Weather Authority by phone on Friday.
But a series of January freezes dropped water temperatures down to 47-48 degrees and likely sent sharks out to the warmer Gulf Stream.
OCEARCH data tracking tags uncovered migratory patterns of white sharks concentrating around northeast Florida and southern Georgia during the winter.
Persistent cold days outnumbered average warm days 20 to 10 in January. White sharks prefer water temperatures in the 55-65 degree range.
"In a normal year, you have this cool pocket of coastal water that extends from Cape Canaveral to Cape Hatteras, from North Carolina down to Central Florida. And that cooler water is what normally gets those white sharks up in here inside the Gulf Stream, but that cooler what is typically around 60 degrees," Fischer said.
High winds made operating in seas over 5-7 feet more challenging. For a couple days, OCEARCH was forced close to shore at a wind protected areas on the south side of the Mayport Jetty.
A 14.6-foot white shark named Lydia was caught in the same location in March of 2013 but that was when the water temperature was 62 degrees.
The research vessel sailed south to a typically sharky location along the Volusia county coast without any shark sightings.
The expedition will end offshore Fernandina Beach after a whale carcass washed up on the beach. White sharks are know to scavenge on dead whales or newborn calves.